It's Mardi Gras time in Durham! The Triangle's original Mardi Gras celebration is still the biggest and still the best. We've got the finest musical lineup ever, great food, great costumes, and those quirky traditions that put the Durham in Mardi Gras. Read on for all the details of what's going on where and when.
Here's a quick schedule, see below for details:
CCB Plaza (Corner of West Parrish & Corcoran Street)
6:00 The Bulltown Strutters play
6:30 The League of the Tutu – Ceremonial placing of The Tutu on Major the Bull
7:00 The Bulltown Strutters will “ramble” from the bull to Motorco
Motorco (723 Rigsbee Avenue)
7:30-8:30 Boom Unit Brass Band
9:00-11:00 Bulltown Strutters
The Blue Note Grill (709 Washington Street)
8:15 – 9:30 The Wiley Fosters
10:00 – 11:15 Coleslaw
Fullsteam Brewery (726 Rigsbee Avenue)
8:00-9:15 The Tan and Sober Gentlemen
9:45-11:00 The Ragweed Brass
The Pit Authentic Barbecue (321 W Geer Street)
8:15-9:30 The Cajammers
10:00-11:15 Shamu Garcon
The Bar (711 Rigsbee Avenue)
9:30 The Mardi Gras Drag Show
One thing that's new this year is that the streets are being taken over by 'krewes', as they are called in New Orleans. These 'social and pleasure clubs' take it upon themselves to create costumes, performances in the streets, marches around the city, and generally bring festivity and happiness to all. Anybody from New Orleans will tell you that krewes are a big part, if not the biggest part, of what Mardi Gras is all about down there, and we want them to become a big part in Durham, too. To that end, we're letting the krewes show us what they've got and run the streets in lieu of us organizing a formal parade. Some krewes haven't told us what they're doing. So...we'll find out! Even though we're not organizing them ourselves, we'll list krewe events as part of your Mardi Gras — because they are!
Now here's some more info on those events:
Motorco will have a menu of New Orleans and Louisiana favorites and, as every year, it's the place to get your hurricanes. Mardi Gras specialties can also be had at: The Pit, The Blue Note Grill, and Geer Street Garden.
CCB Plaza (Corner of West Parrish & Corcoran Streets)
6:00 The Bulltown Strutters play the plaza. It's a roving brass band party with music, dancing, silliness.
6:30 The League of the Tutu has a whole ceremony planned, with live music, costumes and tutus galore. Ever wonder how that tutu gets on that bull every Mardi Gras? Come find out! We have no idea what they've got up their sleeve this year, but, if past years are any indication, you won't want to miss it. There is no part of Durham Mardi Gras that is more Durham than this. They tell us the ceremony will last about 15 minutes.
6:45 A bit more music from the Strutters, and rumor has it the will be joined by Raleigh's second line band, the Oakwood Second Line.
7:00 The Bulltown Strutters will “ramble”, as they put it, down to Motorco from the plaza
Boom Unit Brass Band (Motorco 7:30-8:30)
BUBB's popularity has taken off and they have risen up to become the area's premiere New Orleans style brass, funk, and party band. Modeled after top contemporary New Orleans acts such as The Soul Rebels and Rebirth Brass Band, they mix soul, jazz, funk, hip-hop, rock and pop into a unique gumbo with a New Orleans twist. They'll do everything from old-school New Orleans classics to classic old school hip-hop. They'll hit you with their own brand new originals and they'll put their own spin on some unique arrangements that will make you say, “I had no idea a brass band could do that!” With some of the areas’ top horn players, fiery solos and unbeatable energy, this music will have you up and dancing!
Check this out:
The Bulltown Strutters (Motorco 9:00-11:00)
Durham's beloved and quirky Bulltown Strutters have been in it since the beginning as the original and forever host band of Durham's Mardi Gras. They were living it up New Orleans style and pulling out all the stops on Fat Tuesday long before every town around decided they'd try to copy Durham's Mardi Gras. Way back, when even in Durham, Fat Tuesday was more like Just Another Tuesday; they marched through the streets of Durham with their Big Bass Drum and into Motorco with 500 people in tow, much to the surprise of the two poor bartenders behind a quiet Motorco bar. Ever since that day, hanging at Motorco with the Strutters has been the place to be on Fat Tuesday. If you haven't seen this goofy, fun-loving and be-sequined band of Durham eccentrics, come find out why they have such a devoted following.
Check this out:
The Wiley Fosters (Blue Note Grill 8:15-9:30)
The Wiley Fosters have been the kings of the Hillsborough music scene for several years now, and it's easy to see why. We thought it was about time to lure them over to Durham from their home base in Mystery Brewing Company.
This band has more star power than maybe any group around. Its members draw from an astounding number and variety of North Carolina's greatest groups, past and present, including The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Tres Chicas, Hazeldine, Curtis Eller's American Circus, The Wusses, Skidaddle, Archbishops of Blount Street, Boom Unit Brass Band, The Bulltown Strutters, Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad, and many more. Any one of them would be the star in any other band, but here, they're just part of the constellation. Led by the indefatigable William Dawson, formerly of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, this ever morphing collective puts on a completely different show every time, with different tunes, different singers, different instruments and a new theme every show. No matter how many times you've see them you will always be blown away by something new. It's probably no surprise that this time the theme is Mardi Gras!
A while back, somebody even did a documentary about how it all began:
You might as well watch this instead of a clip of a past show, because hey, it changes every time!
Coleslaw (Blue Note Grill 8:15-9:30)
Hillsborough's Coleslaw has been gathering an ever larger following for their enthusiastic and energetic performances across the area. Much as the Mardi Gras festival hosts The Bulltown Strutters have embodied Durham's eclectic eccentricity and funneled it through the lens of New Orleans second line music, Coleslaw takes Hillsborough's quirky character and channels it through North Carolina's bluegrass and folk. They started off with the traditional instruments — bass, banjo, guitar, and mandolin – but then they kept growing. They added drums, trumpet, sax and a saw. They even pulled in the town's blacksmith, who started welding until he came up with just the right sounding musical sculpture to whack the hell out of. He is not your grandfather's percussionist and it's not your grandfather's bluegrass either.
Here's an early video, back when they were smaller:
The Tan and Sober Gentlemen (Fullsteam 8:00-9:15)
We've gotten more buzz about this band than just about any other this year. Those who've seen them will tell you that once you show up, you're in for a ride. As far as folk music goes, or any music for that matter, they're about the best drinking and dancing band you'll find.
Born and raised in the North Carolina backcountry, The Tan and Sober Gentlemen began taking in the songs, stories, and tunes that make up their beloved state's heritage before they could talk. They've toured the East Coast from Boston to Savannah, gracing such stages as the Haw River Ballroom, Cat's Cradle, and festivals such as Shakori Hills.
The band aims to explore the Celtic roots of North Carolinian music, and to play it with a fire and intensity they feel is lacking in much of today's folk music. The result is Scotch-Irish hillbilly insanity they dub «Celtic punk-grass.» If you're looking for high energy insanity, look no further.
Check it out:
Take a peek of what you're in for:
Ragweed Brass (Fullsteam 9:45-11:00)
Ragweed Brass takes listeners back to the days when jazz, blues and folk music were forming together. With a vocal-driven repertoire that blends original tunes with classics of the jug band and old N’Orleans days, Ragweed Brass springs up from the ground to make folks hum and clap, dance and tap their toes. The lineup features Dave Henderson, vocals, guitar and banjo; Jesse Jordan, vocals and strings; Ernie Renn, percussion; Jim Henderson, soprano sax; George Allen, trombone; and Mark Daumen, tuba.
You can take a listen here [https://soundcloud.com/user-372774162]
The Cajammers (The Pit 8:15-9:30)
Cajammers is a North Carolina band that has been playing an exuberant mix of Cajun, Zydeco, and swamp pop since 2012. Unique to the group is a trio of female fiddlers who adore sharing their love for Louisiana-inspired tunes with the audience. Every year the Cajun dancers arrive en masse to strut their stuff, and a lot of them can be found over in The Pit at the Cajun Stage, making the beautiful wood floors creak in rhythm. This is the place to come to work off those extra king cake calories!
Members include Heather Henry (fiddle), Dianne Freund (fiddle), Christine Westfall (fiddle), Cathy Pratt Davis (Cajun accordion), Mel Dejesus (bass), Joe Galas (keyboard), Elvis Latiolais (guitar), Tony Matthews (guitar and mandolin), and Kathy Parry (percussion).
Check 'em out:
Shamu Garcon (The Pit 10:00-11:15)
Shamu Garcon are another long-time favorite on the Cajun dance scene. Featuring seasoned musicians Chris Mankoff (fiddle), Tim Wells (guitar, fiddle, harmonica, tit fers, and banjo), Joe Galas (accordion, keyboards), Harold Brady (bass), and Billy Alphin (drums), Shamu Garcon is considered by many to be one of the finest traditional Cajun bands around. Don’t miss doing a Cajun two-step or waltz (someone will show you how) with this band.
Take a listen:
The Mardi Gras Drag Show (The Bar 9:00-???)
Can you believe it that some people have never seen a drag show? Or maybe you're even one of them. Well, whether you're a seasoned drag show veteran or drag show newbie, when better to drop by for a taste of feather boa than Mardi Gras? The Bar has been putting on the Mardi Gras Drag show, not to mention plenty of others, for long enough that you can rest assured they are the experts. Featuring Storie Daie, Spray Jay and Jada J Wess. Watch the drag queens strut their stuff, then strut yours at the dance party right after.
If you would like more information, please email Durham Mardi Gras at [email protected]
or go to the Durham Mardi Gras Facebook page: facebook.com/DurhamMardiGras/